John Thune: Native heritage vital in South Dakota
The following is the opinion of Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota).

Every November, our nation recognizes American Indian Heritage Month. This celebration has special significance for all South Dakotans given the contributions of Native Americans to our state’s history and culture. I consider myself especially privileged to work with and represent South Dakota’s nine tribes in the U.S. Senate, and I look forward to continuing to do so in the future.

Native Americans, living both in reservation and non-reservation communities, make contributions to the culture of our state and of our nation that are irreplaceable. The art, dance, and other tribal traditions preserved in South Dakota are a unique and valuable component of American life. Many tribal members in South Dakota act as ambassadors of culture to the rest of the country and to the world, representing our state and their Native American traditions. This is a tremendous legacy for our state and a valuable resource we should all treasure.

It is fortunate that we celebrate American Indian Heritage Month in November, the same month we remember all American veterans. The history of South Dakota tribal members fighting in the U.S. Armed Forces is well known in South Dakota, but it still deserves special recognition. Lakota Code Talkers like Clarence Wolf Guts of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe excelled in a necessary and celebrated mission in communicating secret messages our enemies in World War II could not decipher. In addition, Millie Rexroat, an Oglala Lakota woman, served with distinction in World War II as a member of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). People in our state have known of the heroics of Woody Keeble long before he was finally posthumously recognized with the Medal of Honor last year for his heroic actions during the Korean War. Many tribal members from South Dakota continue to serve with distinction in our Armed Forces today, and all South Dakotan’s are grateful for their service.

In the midst of celebrating American Indian Heritage Month we cannot overlook the challenges facing South Dakota’s tribal communities today. Large disparities in education, health care, and public safety require cooperation between state, federal, and tribal authorities, and I look forward to continuing to work with South Dakota’s tribes to advocate policies that promise a brighter future for South Dakota’s native communities.

South Dakota’s tribal heritage is a significant part of the richness of our state’s culture and way of life. All South Dakotans are privileged to share in this legacy in ways great and small, and American Indian Heritage Month gives all of us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of Native American history and culture to our state and the nation. I would like to recognize all of the citizens of South Dakota’s nine tribes this November, and I pledge to continue working with you in the years ahead.

Related Stories:
John Thune: Honoring legacy of Indian veterans (11/9)
John Thune: Public safety in Indian Country (10/12)
John Thune: Tribal dialogue in South Dakota (08/10)
John Thune: Make Indian health and safety a priority (5/25)
John Thune: Obama fails to address tribal needs (5/11)